Who moved the beef? A tale of flux at GM

Skwira (this is the '70s version) is a copy editor at Automotive News.
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Who would have thought that General Motors, the Ward Cleaver of American business for most of its 100-plus years of existence, would be the first auto company to name a woman to the top job? Women have been leading other companies for some time now, but the change at the top of GM is one of those landmark events, like Bob Dylan going electric, that marks a cultural watershed.

Here's a flashback to what life was like at GM in ancient times (the 1970s), back when executives used to walk around with lapel pins on their three-piece, uniformly gray -- sometimes a rebel would wear dark blue -- suits that read: "60-60-60." That stood for the company's goal of a 60 percent market share and a $60-a-share stock price before the 60th birthdays of its two top executives, CEO Tom Murphy and President Pete Estes. I was an auto writer then, back in the days when stories were scratched onto stone tablets with sharp pieces of flint.

The scene was a GM holiday party. Most of the details are lost in the fog of memory, but I recall walking down a long aisle of chairs, at the end of which was a bountiful buffet table that spread to the right and to the left. Shrimp as big as a child's head, etc.

I was walking down the aisle with some moderately high-level GM exec -- perhaps the assistant executive glove compartment designer, at a time when each of the GM divisions did its own glove box, own glove box latches, own glove box trim, etc. When we reached the end of the aisle, the exec looked at the buffet and, clearly disoriented, abruptly stopped walking and left his half-said sentence unfinished.

Something wrong? I asked.

The roast beef is usually on the right, he responded, struggling to adapt to the new circumstance before him.

Yes, change came hard at GM.

I don't know where they put the roast beef these days. But I suspect there now are vegan offerings as well.

Godspeed, Ms. Barra. I'm sure your dad, who made dies at GM for 39 years, would have been very proud of you and of his old company.

You can reach Gregory Skwira at

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